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Posts for January, 2014

Human Rights Activists: Ugandan President Pledges to Reject “Fascist” Anti-Homosexuality Bill

Jim Burroway

January 18th, 2014

The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights issued a press release saying that a delegation met with Uganda President Yoweri Museveni to discuss the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. This meeting follows a letter written by the center’s president Kerry Kennedy and retired South African Archbishop Desmund Tutu asking for a meeting. The meeting happened today in Entebbe:

The delegation – comprised of Ms. Kennedy, Santiago A. Canton, Director of RFK Partners for Human Rights, and Wade McMullen, Staff Attorney for the RFK Center – expressed their grave concern over the legislation that would further criminalize homosexual conduct, censor freedom of expression, and ban civil society organizations working on LGBTI issues in Uganda. Archbishop Desmond Tutu who joined the conversation via telephone similarly expressed his concern, stating the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was reminiscent of oppressive laws passed under apartheid in South Africa.

President Museveni pledged to reject the bill as currently drafted, calling the legislation “fascist.” The President stated that he will consult with his party and plans to introduce a new piece of legislation aimed at protecting minors from being coerced into sexual activity.

The RFK Center reiterated that the government should focus on enforcing the Ugandan Penal Code provisions that already outlaw both opposite-sex and same-sex sexual abuse of minors. Should new legislation be introduced along the lines of the President’s suggestion, the RFK Center strongly advised that any bill should only focus on strengthening current child protection measures, may not discriminate against individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, and must fully respect the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association.

“I welcome President Museveni’s decision to reject this hateful bill,” said Archbishop Tutu. “It is time for our African brothers and sisters to move past the antiquated notion that someone could be a criminal for who they love.”

If Museveni holds to his promise, this would be welcome news. A news report yesterday erroneously suggested that Museveni had already pledged in a letter dated December 28to refuse to assent to the Anti-Homosexuality bill passed by Parliament a week earlier. Once the full contents of that letter became available, it became clear that Museveni had not made any such pledge at that time.

The letter also dwelled extensively on fears that individuals were being “recruited” into homosexuality by economic incentives. That concern, rather than child sexual abuse specifically, may be behind his motivation for new legislation, as pedophilia is often conflated with homosexuality in Uganda, as it is elsewhere in anti-gay circles. Museveni’s desire for new legislation bears watching, and it’s good that the RFK Center reminded him that the Uganda Penal Code’s provisions against child sexual abuse are already gender neutral.

Museveni has said that he will bring the Anti-Homosexuality Bill up before his ruling party’s caucus for further discussion. There’s no word yet on when those discussions will take place.

In 2011, the RFK Center honored Ugandan LGBT advocate Frank Mugisha with the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award.

Uganda President Denounces — But Does Not Block — the Anti-Homosexuality Bill

Jim Burroway

January 17th, 2014

My suspicions were confirmed. Buzzfeed’s J. Lester Feder has obtained a copy of the December 28 letter that Uganda President Yoweri Museveni sent to Parliament Speaker Rebecca Kadaga which an article in this morning’s Daily Monitor charactrized as “blocking” the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. As Daily Monitor pointed out, Museveni criticized Kadaga and Parliament for rushing to pass the bill without the proper quorum, an act that violates the Uganda Constitution. However, there is nothing in the letter to indicate that Museveni will send the bill back to Parliament as provided in the Constitution. Nor does he indicate whether he considers the bill to be legitimately sitting on his desk awaiting action. As Feder notes, this provides little comfort to Uganda LGBT activists:

Though Museveni argues the bill was not duly passed, under the Ugandan constitution, a bill sent by parliament to the president becomes law with in 30 days if he does not block it.

“The danger is he has the bill, and 30 days may end” without him taking formal action, (Sexual Minorities Uganda executive director Frank) Mugisha said. The letter is dated December 28, which means Museveni has under two weeks at most to reject the bill. But the deadline could be as soon as Monday or Tuesday if he received the bill immediately after its passage on December 20.

Additionally, Mugisha said, Museveni’s long discussion of how homosexuality is “abnormal,” he added, could “increase hatred.”

Feder has posted the entire letter on Scribd. Certainly, the excerpts quoted in Daily Monitor represent some of the more inflammatory remarks, and those selective quotes certainly pose a danger of stoking readers’ homophobia. But reading the entire letter — once you get past the first two pages where Museveni discusses other matters — provides a great deal of insight into Museveni’s thinking which, at least in the Uganda context, is somewhat more “balanced,” relatively speaking, than the Daily Monitor article suggests.

On the whole, Museveni sees two kinds of gay people: people who are really gay (who he calls the “abnormals”), and those who, according to popular lore in Uganda, are “recruited” into homosexuality for economic reasons. What’s interesting is that in the second to last paragraph, he expresses his doubts that the second camp could be, as he put it “‘hooked’ into homosexuality.” As for the former group (the “abnormals”), he suggests, in his own way, that they are more or less born that way (to borrow a phrase that he does not use), and have the same right to exist as albinos, people with epilepsy, infertile women, and other “abnormals” who were also created by God.

Museveni also describes famous Ugandans from the pre-colonial era who were gay and who “did outstanding and really unique service to the respective communities, their private problems notwithstanding.” He also noted the British mathematician and cryptologist Alan Turing, ”the genius mathematician that cracked the German Enigma code for the anti-Hitler alliance. … Only the other day, the Queen had to apologize to this sexually abnormal person but much more useful to society than the millions of sexually normal people.”

The entire letter, which I have transcribed below, is something everyone should read in full, as it shows a man who is struggling to come to grips with something that he does not quite understand, and is taking the time to try to think it out in writing.

…Recently, we had the anti-homosexuality Bill. This is, again, something we advised to shelve until we had studied it in depth. Some elements, however, insisted and, even without quorum of Parliament, “passed” it. How can you “pass” law without the quorum of Parliament after it has been pointed out? What sort of Parliament is this? How can Parliament be the one to break the Constitution and the Law repeatedly?

Coming to the substance of the homosexual debate, I would like to ask: “Who is a Homosexual?” My answer is that a homosexual is somebody who is abnormal because the normal person was created to be attracted to the opposite sex in order to procreate and perpetuate the human race. The same goes for other species — cattle, pigs, etc. Indeed, my Bishop of North Ankole, Rt. Rev. Muhanguzi, was partially right in one of his sermons when he asked the following question: “Ruhanga nabaasa okwehakanisa? — How can God contradict himself by saying in the Book of Genesis that Adam should be given a wife, Eve, and then also create homosexuals?”

Since I have not concentrated my mind on this subject, Bishop Muhanguzi’s question sounded logical. However, now that I have been forced to concentrate my mind on this issue by the actions of a small group of our MPs, led by the Rt. Hon. Kadaga, I can see the fallacy in Bishop Muhanguzi’s position. Who creates albinos? Is it not the same God that creates other people — Black Africans and Europeans? Do albinos create themselves? No. Simply, nature goes wrong in a minority of cases. Fortunately, our indigenous science has since millennia detected and described these abnormalities. Albinos are called nyamagoye. Homosexuals are called ebitiingwa or ebisiyiyagyi (Luganda). Epilepsy is called entsiimbo. A barren women [sic] is called enguumba (in the past it was not widely known that men could also be enguumba ). There is another abnormality known as “epa” — where a woman does not achieve puberty by not developing breasts (amabeere), pubic hair (enza), hairs in the arm-pit (ebyakyeeri)  or menstruate (okuzira). There are Mongols (ebigoori-goori), etc., etc. In Runyankore some of these are called amahano. In the pre-colonial times, I think, some of these were killed, especially epa. So were even lighter cases of, for instances, pre-marital pregnancy, ebinyandaalo. These abnormalities are different from disability, obumuga or oburema. The other is eihano (abnormal) and the other is ekimuga or ekirema (disabled). The difference is that a disabled person is a normal person but who got disabled in some aspect. Eihano is abnormal fundamentally mainly because the hormones malfunctioned.

The question at the core of the debate of the homosexuals is: “What do we do with an abnormal person? Do we kill him/her? Do we imprison him/her? Or do we contain him/her?”

In the traditional society, it is not very clear whether they would kill these abnormal people. What is clear is that they would try to contain these abnormalities by being particular about the person they married (okushweera) or got married to (kushweerwa). They used to kutaasha (report on the qualities of the intended bride). Unfortunately, this has been interfered with by the concept of “falling in love at first sight” grabbed by our “modern” women and men. This is a big mistake. What do you know about problems (blemishes — emizze) of the person you have fallen in love with at first sight?

I suspect this has been the problem in Europe and the West. Even there, they had the same principles in the past — of careful selection. They, however, abandoned these in preference for money initially and, eventually, for just, freelance bonding. It may be this that has increased the phenomena of the abnormal sexual conduct. The abnormal people have increased.

Apart from the people who are born abnormal, it seems there is a larger group of those that become homosexual for mercenary reasons — they get recruited on account of financial inducements. This is the group that can be rescued. Possibly many of our youth fall in his [sic] category. How about the women lesbians? Apart from the ones that are abnormal and the ones that may become lesbian for mercenary reasons, there may be those that go into that practice because of sexual starvation when they fail to get married. Women are normally more than men for reasons I do not know. In the past, this imbalance could have been addressed by polygamy. Some of the religions de-campaign this traditional practice. What happens, then, to these surplus women? I normally separate spiritual matters from social issues, ever since the 1960s. Some confuse the two: If socially you behave in a given manner, then you are not spiritual, they seem to say. My private view, which I never seek to impose on anybody, is that people can have different social arrangements but be very spiritual. Can’t a Moslem who is polygamous be as spiritual, as godly, as a Christian who is monogamous?

The groups that can be rescued, therefore, are those who are homosexual or lesbian for mercenary reasons or on account of frustration — failure to get legal partners. The rescue for these mercenary deviants is, first and foremost, economic — rapidly industrialize Uganda, modernize agriculture, etc. Do not delay any project of factory, services or infrastructure. By so doing you are exposing those unemployed youth or impecunious students to these risks and temptations. If you do not do this and you only talk about legislation, you are a quack social doctor. Even with legislation, they will simply go underground and continue practicing homosexuality or lesbianism for mercenary reasons. By providing for UPE, USE, Government scholarship, the student loan scheme, etc. we are trying to rescue our youth from extreme need. However, these do not cover their other financial needs — pocket money, necessities like videos, poor parents, unemployed siblings, etc., etc. Do we not have legislation against prostitution? Why has it not stopped prostitution?

In addition to working on the social-economic issues of our youth with great vigour (instead of behaving as if we are doing a favour to the investors who bring projects here), yes, we should legislate harshly against these people with money, from within and without, who take advantage of the desperation of our youth to lure them into these abnormal and deviant behaviors. I would support a life sentence for the one who lures normal youth into these disgusting behaviours — especially homosexuality. On this one I would agree with the Bill passed by Parliament.

The unanswered question, however, is: What do you do with the really abnormal people? In the Ankole-Kigezi-Buganda-Tooro-Bunyoro-Karagwe area, in the last 200 years, I am aware, through rumours, that there have been, at least, three very prominent persons who were homosexuals. Two were kings and one was a prominent chief. Some of these did outstanding and really unique service to the respective communities, their private problems notwithstanding. Only the other day, I saw on television that Dr. Allan Turing, the genius mathematician that cracked the German Enigma code for the anti-Hitler alliance, at Bletchely Park in the UK, was a homosexual. This man, along with the discovery of radar, gave an unfair advantage to the anti-Hitler group and enabled them to win the war. Yet, the British chemically castrated him in 1952, where-upon he committed suicide, apparently. Were the British correct in handling that issue like that? The British no longer think so. Only the other day, the Queen had to apologize to this sexually abnormal person but much more useful to society than the millions of sexually normal people.

Therefore, the challenge is how to correctly handle the sexually abnormal on the one hand and those who use money or any other influence to recruit sexually normal people into this abnormal and disgusting behaviour. When we meet in the NRM caucus, we shall, I am sure, find a scientifically correct position.

Three final points. One is the reason given for the hurry in rushing some of these legislations: “There is a lot of homosexuality in schools, etc.” Yes, that may be so. What, then, does it mean? Does it mean that homosexuality is more attractive? OR is it because of the bad economic conditions for the families of these children that drive them into homosexuality for mercenary reasons? Is it not the same economic conditions for the rural families that I have been talking about since 1995 when I made a countrywide tour after successfully experimenting with socio-economic transformation in the Nyabushozi area? Who do we not, all of us, put more vigour in the struggle for homestead incomes using the resource the Government has been sending to the rural areas? With the Army officers and Hon. Kataike, we have been able to distribute more than 5 million seedlings of coffee since September, 1 million seedlings of tea, 235,000 seedlings of fruits, etc. If we all supervised NAADS in our respective areas of representation, we would have gone much further in putting incomes into the homesteads so that we eliminate the poverty that makes our youths vulnerable.

The second point is that people who become homosexuals for mercenary reasons will get “hooked” to homosexuality. I doubt very much. What is there in homosexuality that would attract a normal human being? A man to fail to be attracted by the beauties of a female body and is attracted to the anus (I now understand) of another man can only represent terrible sickness. Let us cure the economic conditions so that we can rescuer our youth and, then, see how to deal with the few abnormals that may be there among us.

Finally, I do not agree with the position of the Western countries that homosexuality is an alternative sexual orientation to heterosexuality. You cannot call an abnormality an alternative orientation. It could be that the Western societies, on account of random breeding, have generated many abnormal people. Nevertheless, you cannot say that because the abnormals are many, they constitute an alternative way of life. My acid test for rejecting that position is that nature is purposeful. One of the main purposes of man is to perpetuate life. You cannot perpetuate human life without copulation of opposite sexes for the majority of animal species. Even many plants rely on cross-pollination. It is only a few that rely on self-pollination. Therefore, homosexuality and lesbianisn, if not mercenary or out of social frustration (for sexually starved women), is an abnormality and must be treated as such.

Status of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill Is Completely Up in the Air … Including, Possibly, Its Death Penalty

Jim Burroway

January 17th, 2014
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The above NTV report comes from the same media company that owns Daily Monitor, Uganda’s largest independent newspaper. Earlier this morning Kampala time, Daily Monitor reported that President Yoweri Museveni had “blocked” the Anti-Homosexuality Bill which had been passed in Parliament in December with an apparent lack of quorum. (The pro-government New Vision makes no mention of Museveni’s letter, at least not on its online edition. The Uganda Media Centre, the government’s official press office, is similarly silent this morning.) Most other major media outlets reporting on this development are citing the Daily Monitor story.

Museveni’s letter to Parliament Speaker Rebecca Kadaga criticizing Parliament’s vote on December 20 was dated December 28 but only made public today. All of this leaves up in the air the bill’s precise status. Does Museveni’s letter represent a formal rejection of the legislation under the Constitution’s Article 91 (3) (b)? That seems to be the assumption most media outlets are making. It’s certainly what the Daily Monitor story implies, although it doesn’t say so explicitly.

But if that’s the case, why is this being made public only today? If this were a formal rejection of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, that news would have come in handy last week at a meeting of Uganda’s foreign ambassadors in Kampala, many of them posted in Western countries where the Anti-Homosexuality Bill is deeply controversial. Instead, Ugandan envoys were told by Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, according to the Daily Monitor report at that time, that “Before (the President) assenting to it, this matter (the legislation) will be taken to the Movement caucus which will advise accordingly before the Presidents signs it.” That caucus is expected to take place by the end of the month.

The other possibility is that this December 28 letter isn’t a formal rejection of the letter under the Constitution, but instead is a refusal to recognize that Parliament acted lawfully in passing the legislation without a quorum in the first place. This has been the consistent line that Prime Minister Mbabazi has repeated since the day Parliament acted. This may be the more likely possibility. But the uncertainty leaves the precise status — and more critically, the content — of the bill in doubt. After all, if Parliament acted illegally in passing the bill without a quorum, then that means that Parliament also acted illegally in holding its “Committee of the Whole House” where the proposed amendments to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill were debated and adopted. And if Parliament acted illegally in holding its Committee of the Whole House without a quorum, then that means that the death penalty has still not been formally removed from the Anti-Homosexuality Bill and it reverts back to its original state when it was first introduced in Parliament.

All of this leaves the precise status of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill completely up in the air. Hopefully we’ll have more clarity in the next few weeks when the ruling party caucus meets.

Uganda President to “Review” Anti-Homosexuality Bill

Jim Burroway

December 26th, 2013

The Ugandan tabloid Red Pepper says:

(President Yoweri) Museveni said he, “will first go  through the bill and if it is right, he will sign it into law but if he finds it not right, he will send it back to parliament”.

If cooler heads prevail, there are multiple ways in which cooler heads can slow-walk the Anti-Homosexuality Bill through its paces after it was impulsively passed by Parliament last week. Uganda’s constitution requires that Parliament sends the bill with all amendments incorporated to the President’s office “as soon as possible,” after which the President has thirty days to assent to the bill or send it back to Parliament with his objections. Since we don’t know how soon “as soon as possible” is, it’s not clear when that thirty day clock starts. If Museveni does send it back to Parliament, then Parliament will have the opportunity to consider changes to the bill, but will only have to pass it again with a simple majority to send it back to the President. If the President objects again, then he can send it back again, but this time it would take a two-thirds vote of Parliament for the bill to become law.

Anti-gay sentiment in Uganda is high enough that reaching the two-thirds bar would not be at all difficult. So the main opportunities to derail the bill would be to slow-walk it through its paces between now and 2016 when the current Parliament expires. Those four years may seem like an extraordinarily long time in most democracies, but Uganda’s Parliament runs on “Uganda time,” where bills have languished for a decade or more.

As for grounds that Museveni may use if he should decide to send the bill back to Parliament, he can find them in the minority report drafted by members of Parliament’s Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee, which examines each clause of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill and provides legal and constitutional grounds for rejecting the entire bill.

Uganda’s President Denies Anti-LGBT Persecution

Jim Burroway

March 20th, 2013

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni reportedly told a visiting delegation from the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights that there was no marginalization or killing of LGBT people in Uganda. Both the government-owned New Vision and the independent Daily Monitor reported on Museveni’s remarks yesterday According to New Vision:

President Yoweri Museveni has said the issue of homosexuality and lesbianism has been totally distorted leading to wrong public debate.

“In our society, there were a few homosexuals. There was no persecution, no killings and no marginalization of these people but they were regarded as deviants. Sex among Africans including heterosexuals is confidential,” Museveni said.

“If am to kiss my wife in public, I would lose an election in Uganda. Western people exhibit sexual acts in public which we don’t do here,” he said, adding that, Africans do even punish heterosexuals who publically expose their sexual acts.

The president said what is new is the way Europeans and other Western people handle the issue of sexuality in general, including public flaunting which is a problem and luring young people into acts of homosexuality for money.

He said attempts to promote homosexuality as an alternative way of life has led to engagements in running battles with the church.

“You have a lot of room in your house, why don’t you go there. Sex is a bilateral issue, not a multilateral one,” he said.

Among the delegation was Kerry Kennedy, daughter of the late Sen. Robert Kennedy. In 2011, the Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights honored Sexual Minorities Uganda executive director Frank Mugisha with the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award. According to Daily Monitor:

Ms Kennedy, who was accompanied by several lawyers, actors and religious leaders, expressed concern over the pending Anti-Homosexuality bill, reports of harassment of the Gay and Lesbian Community in Uganda and over the exposure of the identities of sexual minority groups. She also said the pending bill on homosexuality works against the international law treaties that Uganda has signed. Ms Kennedy cautioned against the misconceptions that equate paedophiles with homosexuals.

New Vision reported that Kennedy also told Museveni that ”it is a violation of people’s rights to put pictures of sexual minority groups in the [news] papers.” Museveni reportedly promised to investigate:

Reacting to various issues raised by the team, Museveni said he would investigate claims of violence against homosexuals, adding that for a viable solution, activists must respect the confidentiality of sex in our traditions and culture. He reiterated that in Uganda, “there is no discrimination, no killings, no marginalization, no luring of young people using money into homosexual acts”.

Museveni did not directly address the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which still incudes the death penalty for what it defines as “aggravated homosexuality.” Some observers believe that in these statements he was distancing himself from the proposed legislation. I don’t see it that way at all. Besides, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill has been an exceptionally useful tool for Museveni’s government as it pursues other political agendas.

The bill still remains on Parliament’s agenda, under the heading of “Business to follow,” where it has occupied various spots since November. Parliament is currently on break until April as it wrangles over the highly controversial Marriage and Divorce Bill, which is wrapped up in highly emotional arguments over women in society and, in addition, pits government policy against entrenched and longstanding tribal practices. In fact, it was a walk out by women MP’s in a dispute over the Marriage and Divorce Bill in the closing days of the Eighth Parliament in 2011 which prevented the Anti-Homosexuality Bill from coming to a vote. With the Marriage and Divorce Bill back on the agenda, it appears that the AHB is again playing its normal role, having been placed on stand-by in case a unifying vote is needed to  heal fractures in Parliament, or if a popular vote is needed to salve outraged sectors of the general public.

Uganda President’s Remarks “Split” Anti-Gay Activists

Jim Burroway

December 18th, 2012

According to this NTV report, Uganda President Yoweri Museveni’s remarks last weekend has stirred some controversy, pitting die-hard anti-gay activists against fanatic anti-gay activists. (Yeah, I can’t tell the two camps apart either.) As you watch this report, it may help to have this dance card handy so you can keep the characters straight:

Pastor Solomon Male: He is against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, not because he thinks gay people shouldn’t be jailed, but because he thinks that the law would actually end up protecting powerful gay people in government and business. In October, Male was convicted by a Uganda court of conspiring to tarnish a rival pastor’s reputation by accusing him of homosexuality.

James Nsaba Buturo: He is the former Ethics and Integrity Minister who was among the Anti-Homosexuality Bill’s strongest supporters. One U.S. State Department cable posted to Wikileaks described Buturo as “obsessed” with the bill. In this report, Buturo again claims that the death penalty provision as “a falsehood which has been spread around the world,” despite the bill’s exceptionally plain language spelling out the death penalty specifically. Buturo was among the Ugandan officials who met with American anti-gay extremist Scott Lively in 2009 just as the idea of drafting a new Anti-Homosexuality Bill was taking shape.

Pastor Martin Ssempa: The famous “Eat-Da-Poo-Poo” pastor, believed to be linked to the now-defunct Rolling Stone tabloid (no relation to the U.S. publication by the same name), which launched an infamous 2010 “Hang Them!” vigilante campaign which featured LGBT advocate David Kato on the front cover. Kato was brutally murdered just a few months later in January 2011. Ssempa was convicted in October with Male as part of the conspiracy to accuse a rival pastor of homosexuality.

Uganda (Seemingly) Backs Off From Anti-Homosexuality Bill (Maybe) (For Now)

Jim Burroway

December 13th, 2012

Uganda’s WBS Television posted this statement from Prime Minister  Amama Mbabazi, who addressed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill which is now before Parliament:

In Uganda, we have had homosexuality for generations. Everybody knows it. You know, various local languages, we have a name for homosexuals, don’t we? We do. That means it has been there. Whoever had the homosexual was.. was killed. But there is a way in our cultures, we handle them to show our displeasure and no-acceptance of homosexual activities — homosexuality and homosexual activities, you should mark the difference between the two. Okay?

We know that in our own Penal Code, we carried this from the British. We amended this law, the Penal Code by Parliament (I’ve forgotten the year). That particular provision was amended. So it is unlawful already. So to the extent that it is unlawful, and the attempt in this bill to repeat what is already unlawful is not something we’ll support, supporting what is already in the bill. Why? Why won’t we support it? Because it’s already covered.

But there are certain aspects which may be new, like promotion of homosexuality, things like that. Those are things, when we come to debate, we’ll [unintelligible]… We set up a committee which has made a report, we go through this…

It’s a puzzling statement. While he doesn’t say so directly, Mbabazi appears to distance himself and the government from the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, while simultaneously referring to perhaps retaining Clause 13 (which bans all advocacy for LGBT rights) or other recommendations which the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee has reportedly made but has refused to make public. Nevertheless, Mbabazi’s statement is notable. He was one of the figures believed to have “blocked” the Anti-Homosexuality Bill when it came up in the previous Parliament, and Ugandan LGBT advocates last week targeted him in a Twitter campaign urging him to speak out against the bill.

As always, we need to look at these latest developments in a broader context. During an unannounced session late last Friday, Parliament passed a contentious Petroleum Bill, which concentrates exclusive power to negotiate exploration and drilling contracts in the hands of the presidentially-appointed Energy Minister and cuts all outside observers out of any oversight role. Parliament has 375 members, and exactly 188 members — just half a member above the magic 187.5 halfway mark for a quorum — just happened to be in the chambers for the fateful vote, which passed easily. Wow! Who would have thought that they would have been able to round up the exact minimum number from among those who just happend to be hanging around the Parliament building late on a Friday afternoon? It wasn’t a unanimous vote — it was 149-39 — but just by showing up to form a quorum, those thirty-nine no votes were, for all practical purposes, yes votes.

President Yoweri Museveni now gained control over the country’s oil. And with word of the maneuver coming out in what we Westerners recognize as a classic Friday afternoon news dump, the country had the weekend to decide that there was no point in protesting any further. Ubiquitous corruption has a way of numbing the senses. And so the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which had been waiting in the wings in case a diversion was needed, has now been pushed down from the top spot to number 6 under “Business to Follow” on Parliament’s Order Paper for yesterday (DOC: 37KB/2 pages). Today’s Order Paper (DOC: 33KB) shows that Parliament will meet for a Special Sitting for an address by Museveni, undoubtedly to talk about why it is so important for one person to control the country’s entire oil wealth.

Pope Benedict XVI and Speaker Rebecca Kadaga (via the Uganda Parliament web site.)

Meanwhile, Speaker Rebecca Kadaga, who helped  engineer the bill’s reintroduction in February and called for its passage before Parliament begins its Christmas breaks on December 15, has suddenly turned up in Vatican City yesterday, where, according to the Parliament web site, she received a special blessing from the Pope while leading a delegation for a World Parliamentary Conference on Human Rights. All of the sudden that Christmas deadline doesn’t seem so important.

Which is just as well, since Museveni has a lot on his plate right now. Back last summer when talk first emerged that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill would be revived, the only thing anyone could see on the horizon was the contentious Petroleum Bill. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill would make a handy wingman, if you will, to divert attention away from the Petroleum Bill, if needed. But other nasty surprises have cropped up since then. In addition to pushing the first and most contentious of two Petroleum Bills through Parliament, Museveni is furiously trying to broker some kind of a truce/cease-fire/peace deal between the Democratic Republic of Congo and the M23 rebels in the eastern part of that country after a United Nations report blasted Uganda and Rwanda for supporting the rebels.

And Museveni is having to contend with foreign aid cuts in response to a massive corruption scandal in the Prime Minister’s office — that would be the very same Prime Minister who issued the statement above. Germany, Britain, Ireland, Norway, Denmark, and Sweden have all announced cuts to direct government-to-government aid to Uganda following revelations that foreign aid funds have wound up in the private bank accounts of several people in the Prime Minister’s office. Uganda, for its part, has acknowledged the scandal (it was a Ugandan auditor which brought it to light). Museveni’s government has taken notice and vowed to refund the stolen funds — with the Ugandan taxpayers footing the bill. Interestingly, when Germany announced its aid cuts, Minister of Economic Cooperation and Development Dirk Niebel specifically cited Uganda’s meddling in the Congo and the Anti-Homosexuality Bill as reasons number two and three respectively (reason number one, of course, was the  foreign aid scandal). But a spokesperson for Museveni took pains last week to deny that the Congo mess or the Anti-Homosexuality Bill had anything to do with Germany’s announcement:

It is not true that the suspension is a result of false allegation by the UN group of experts that Uganda supports the M23 rebels in the DRC. Being a member of the UN Security council, The Federal Government of Germany is satisfied with Uganda’s role in the pacification of Eastern DRC, under the mandate of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region that is currently chaired by President Museveni.

It is equally NOT true that the suspension of Aid is tagged to the current debate in parliament on Homosexuality.

While that’s going on at home, Museveni found time earlier this week to take a trip to Russia where he was “decorate(d) with the highest award order of valour, honour and glory of the Eminent Military and Political leaders of Africa.” Whatever that means. Why he’s really there is anybody’s guess. The last time he went to Russia, he came home with some expensive MiG jet fighters and left it to Parliament to figure out how to pay for the unbudgeted multi-million dollar aircraft. Whatever Museveni’s doing there this time, nobody knows. But he took the opportunity to lambast the West for its “hegemonism and imperialist practices. …Whatever is pushing those actors [in the West]; they are making a big mistake. Cooperating with Africa is the wise thing to do.”

So, this is what we have. Uganda has gotten more of its share of international attention due to scandals, civil wars and the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, and all of that attention has been decidedly negative. And we see that Ugandan officials are visibly striving to put out at least two of those fires in order to get back into the West’s good graces. And with the Anti-Homosexuality Bill dropping to priority six on Parliament’s “Business to Follow” and Prime Minister Mbabazi’s statement at the top of this post, we may be seeing positive movement on the third fire. It turns out that the negative attention internationally has outweighed whatever diversionary value the bill might have had domestically. Speaker Kadaga’s “Christmas gift” to the Ugandan people just might end up being not passing the bill. At least for the time being.

Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill: Why Now?

Jim Burroway

November 21st, 2012

Uganda Parliament Speaker Rebecca Kadaga and President Yoweri Museveni (Uganda Observer)

Since the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill was first introduced in Uganda’s Parliament in October 2009, it has been like a recurring bad dream. Like most recurring dreams, you don’t have this one every night; you only experience it when stressful events trigger its return. Over the past three years, we’ve seen the AHB dominate the headlines, then go dormant, and then come back whenever there are external or internal events which call for either a diversion or a handy weapon.

Did Britain threaten to cut off aid?  Let’s revive the bill. Did a  feisty opposition leader provoke a violent crackdown? Let’s bring back the bill. Did the American Secretary of State just declare that “gay rights are human rights“? Time to bring it back. Clinton’s speech before the United Nations in Geneva proved a handy pretext to re-introduce the bill into Parliament last February, but it has been languishing in committee since then.

So why the sudden impetus now? One Ugandan human rights leader sees one possibility:

But Kikonyogo Kivumbi, executive director of civil rights organisation Uhspa-Uganda, painted a different picture by describing the anti-gay legislation as a “political weapon” for the Ugandan dictatorship in its attempts to influence the UN.

“Uganda is using the bill to threaten and blackmail the West,” he told IBTimes UK. “They know that respect of human rights is a sensible subject in the West and they are using it to blackmail the international community.”

The activist added that the Ugandan government is furious at a UN report which claimed it was abetting rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The report found that ministers in Kampala are supporting the M23 rebels “in the form of direct troop reinforcements in DRC territory, weapons deliveries, technical assistance, joint planning, political advice and facilitation of external relations”.

Kivumbi said. “When the report came out, the regime was furious and threatened to pull out of Somalia [where around 5,000 Ugandan troops are currently supporting the African Union's peace-keeping mission and curbing the Islamist militant group Al-Shabaab].

“They are threatening the sovereignty of a state, Congo, using the Somalia deal which they consider a soft spot for the West.”

This news mostly escaped western notice, but the UN report was a huge deal in Uganda when it came out. President Yoweri Museveni was clearly stung by the report, and he has threatened to pull Ugandan troops out of its peacekeeping mission in Somalia, where they have played a central role in pushing armed clans out of Mogadishu. Ugandan authorities are also making a show of closing its border with Congo even as Congolese rebels have captured the strategic Eastern city of Goma.

L-R: Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, First Lady and M.P. Janet Museveni

That row over the Congo is only one of a long list of conflicts confronting the Ugandan government. Over the past few months, Britain, Ireland, Norway, Denmark, and Sweden announced that they were cutting direct aid to the Ugandan government after learning that much of it went into the personal bank account of Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi. Well gee, how did it get there?, he asked with feigned ignorance as he promptly found seventeen scapegoats to fire. Those scapegoats are now firing back. A similar scandal is reaching First Lady and Parliament Member Janet Museveni. And in yet another scandal, dozens of leaders have been caught in a US$650 million pension scam in which they registered thousands of so-called ”ghost pensioners” to skim payments off of the nation pension plan’s meager resources. In reaction to all that, the World Bank has now warned that it would review its aid to Uganda, and last weekend, Britain announced that it not just halted its direct aid, but had frozen all bilateral aid, including aid to NGO’s and Ugandan financial institutions as well. That’s a huge hit. Total bilateral aid for the year was set for £98.9 million (US$157 million).

(By the way, the nation’s clerics, sensing an opportunity, have called on foreign governments to bypass the kleptocracy and give the foreign aid directly to them. But obviously, Britain isn’t buying.)

Meanwhile, Uganda’s primary referral hospital, Mulago Hospital, was forced to close its intensive care unit due to lack of funds while the country continues to struggle with nodding disease (the government’s response included feeding its victims rotten food) and a fresh Ebola outbreak. But when anti-corruption activists tried to hold a meeting to demand accountability in government, police intervened and put a stop to it. And, by the way, foreigners are getting brand new identity cards soon. The only reason Ugandans aren’t getting new national identity cards is because that project, too, has been botched by corruption.

Parliament Speaker Rebecca Kadaga

So with all that going on, why not throw the masses some tripe and bring up the Anti-Homosexuality Bill? The timing is obviously ripe for it. All that was needed was a pretext. And that came earlier this month when Parliament Speaker Rebecca Kadaga went to Canada for an Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly and was present when Canada’s Foreign Minister John Baird blasted Uganda’s human rights record. Baird particularly singled out the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill and the murder of Ugandan LGBT advocate David Kato in January, 2011. Kadaga replied with an angry retort, complete with the usual appeals to Uganda’s sovereignty and denunciations of Western colonialism. When she returned home to Entebbe, she was greeted with a hero’s welcome. She then announced to the cheering crowds that Uganda, by God, would show the world it can’t be pushed around anymore.

Speaker Kadaga has emerged as a pivotal figure lately in Ugandan politics. Amid widespread discontent over Museveni’s determination to remain in office through media manipulation and constant crackdowns on the opposition, Kadaga’s fearless brashness plays like a breath of fresh air. Her longstanding position in the ruling National Resistance Movement doesn’t appear to hurt either, as that makes her both a practical and a plausable successor to Museveni should he accept calls to restore term limits when his current term ends in 2016, after which he will have been in power for more than thirty years.

Kadaga’s political instincts are sharp, and she knows a popular, career-enhancing platform when she sees one. She has been a supporter of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill from the very beginning, and before that, for increased penalties for homosexuality.  In April 2009, while Deputy Speaker, she presided over Parliament as M.P. David Bahati sought approval to submit an Anti-Homosexuality Bill as a private member’s bill. The bill failed to come to a vote before the Eight Parliament expired in May 2011.But after the Ninth Parliament elected her as Speaker, Kadaga promptly to engineered the bill’s reintroduction in February 2012. She is now pushing for its passage before Parliament breaks for Christmas on December 15. She says it will be a “Christmas gift” to the Ugandan people, and given the widespread homophobia in Ugandan society, the bill’s passage would only enhance Kadaga’s reputation further. And by the way, the bill’s passage under her leadership might, conveniently, help to quash rumors which surround the fact that, at age 56, Kadaga remains unmarried and without children in a country that takes these things very seriously.

So where is Museveni in all this? It’s usually right about now when a government spokesperson comes forward to tell us that the President or his cabinet has “rejected” the bill. But nobody from Museveni’s cabinet is throwing cold water on it this time. And it may well be that with all of the challenges that Museveni is facing, the bill’s passage, or even its mere threat, may serve Museveni’s interests as much as they serves Kadaga’s. If this bill is passed, she will get the credit — a good thing in domestic politics in the short term — because it will have her fingerprints all over it. But those fingerprints won’t dust off so easily in the long term when the country deals with the fallout with further reductions of foreign aid. That could be particularly damaging in the eyes of those who had supported her as a potential successor to Museveni, and that could play to Museveni’s long-term benefit.

None of this says that the bill’s passage is imminent, and none of its says that it’s not. That’s the tricky thing about trying to read the tea leaves in Uganda. The only thing that is certain is that it all comes down to whose interests are served best and how they are best served. If Kadaga passes the bill now, she will be a hero, for at least few months anyway. If its delayed again, then it’s still out there, ready to be acted on, until the Ninth Parliament expires in 2016. Either way, the larger message has gone out: leave us alone or the gays gets it.

Going After Ugandan Gays a Convenient Government Diversion

Jim Burroway

February 23rd, 2012

In a New York Times blog post, Journalist Dayo Olobade sees Uganda’s LGBT community a convenitent diversion whenever government leaders have too many other problems to grapple with.

Last year, the government spent more than $500 million on new military planes while failing to build, staff or maintain maternity hospitals. This year, parliament approved payments of 103 million Ugandan shillings (about $45,000) per representative in order for each to buy a new car. A recent wave of influence-peddling scandals has left seven cabinet positions vacant. In this climate, it seems curious that (Ethics and Integrity Minister Simon) Lokodo, whose portfolio includes both “gay issues” and dealing with corruption in government, should invest such personal interest in the former and not the latter.

…The long-serving President Yoweri Museveni, meanwhile, has disavowed parliament’s activity both times the (Anti-Homosexuality) bill has been considered, primarily, it seems, out of fear that gay-bashing might endanger foreign aid from rights-conscious donors like the United States and Britain. That’s not to say he and his cohort don’t benefit from this culture-war sideshow: three days before Bahati’s bill resurfaced this month, the president signed a controversial new oil contract. Last year, after a series of opaque agreements with foreign companies, parliament had ruled that no new production-sharing agreements were to be signed until a comprehensive regulatory regime had been established. The president’s office, insisting that an engagement with the British energy company Tullow Oil pre-dated the moratorium, went ahead anyway.

“You’d think that the government, given pressure regarding the oil sector, would begin the legislative session with the oil reforms,” says Angelo Izama, an experienced Ugandan journalist on the oil beat. “But they began with the gay bill. It’s not accidental.” The semi-successful diversion, coupled with disregard for parliamentary procedures, illustrates the lack of checks on the behavior of the Museveni government.

Museveni, who has held power since winning a civil war in 1986, has spoken out against the bill. But it doesn’t take a political genius to see that he finds having the bill around benefits him politically. He elevated Lokodo, a defrocked Catholic priest, to his cabinet and Lokodo immediately set about raiding a workshop on LGBT advocacy. Museveni also undoubtedly had a hand in raising MP David Bahati, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill’s sponsor, to the position of acting chairman of the ruling party’s caucus in Parliament. It’s inconceivable that Bahati would have reached that position without Museveni’s solid support, and its very difficult to read that move as a reward for providing Museveni with a convenient diversion that he can use whenever he needs it.

Meanwhile, Museveni appeared in a BBC television interview to deny that gay people are being persecuted in Uganda. “Homosexuals — in small numbers — have existed in our part of black Africa. They were never prosecuted, they were never discriminated,” he told BBC’s Stephen Sackur just days after his government’s raid on Entebbe. Museveni made those comments during a visit to London to launch a tourism innitiativeand attend a summit on Somolia.

Uganda’s President on Gays: “First Talk About Railroads”

Jim Burroway

December 19th, 2011
YouTube Preview Image

(At 0:45) The crucial elements that we need in this region, apart from peace and democracy, is infrastructure development. … This is the policy you should concentrate on. Yes, I know homosexuals are important [laughter and scattered applause], but homosexuals also need electricity. [laughter] So before anybody gives me a lecture about homosexuals and their rights, please first talk about the railroads.

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni lashed out at international donors at the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region. (African Great Lakes refers generally to the areas of D.R . Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania.) His remarks, for whatever reason, don’t seem to have gotten much play in the major Uganda media online. The above report is from Kenya’s NTV, and here is the take from Kenya’ The Nation. Warren Throckmorton reacted:

Hard to use all of those modern conveniences if you are in jail, Yoweri. Although maybe Museveni is right. If the [Anti-Homosexuality Bill] passes, gays will need electricity in jails, and roads and railways to take them there.

Warren’s right to poke at the myopia with which African leaders are reacting to recent policy statements by the U.S. and U.K. which either implicitly or explicitly link foreign aid to how nations treat LGBT populations. But there is a legitimate concern, shared by LGBT advocates on the ground, over a backlash should the idea that human rights abuses against LGBT people are more important than human rights abuses generally take hold and become part of popular wisdom. Remember, Museveni has held power for 25 years — an achievement itself which is hardly the mark of a democratic leader — and he has done it by manipulating the constitution and media, by installing a compliant electoral commission, and clamping down hard on political opponents. The West’s failure to address those problems with similar vigor will only feed growing cynicism over western motives.

Again, I raise this point not to say that protection against LGBT abuses should not be a priority. After all, it is gay people who are being targeted for murder by the state, not members of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change. But if Ugandans are violently denied the right to peaceful assembly and redress of grievances in the political sphere, it should come as no surprise when authorities also see no need to guarantee the rights of LGBT people to those same things. Yes, gays need electricity and railroads, and so does everyone else. But everyone, gays included, also need the freedom to use them.

Ugandan Presidential Aide Confirms Wikileaks Conversation

Jim Burroway

September 12th, 2011

John Nagenda: "An accurate reflection."

Perhaps that headline should read “Former Ugandan Presidential Aide…”. There now appears to be a falling out between John Nagenda and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. The revelation via Wikileaks of Nagenda’s frank accusation that Uganda’s First Lady Janet Museveni is “ultimately behind” the controversial Anti-Homosexuality Bill would certainly provide sufficient cause for the split, but this article in Uganda’s The Observer points to a more substantial dispute that’s been brewing for some time. Go read the article for more background information, but as far as his comments concerning the First Lady’s support for the bill is concerned, Nagenda confirms the cable’s message:

In an interview with The Observer on Saturday, Nagenda admitted holding the said meeting with US Embassy officials and added that he maintains the views he shared with them.

“Yes; one or two words may be slightly different. I held a conversation with the political officer and it’s an accurate reflection in the sense that I said that the President is very strongly anti-gay, but I doubted that he would support such a bill. I did accurately predict that he wouldn’t support the bill. It was extreme,” Nagenda said.

“On the First Lady – it’s a long time ago – but what I meant is that she holds very strong views where she sees morality.”

Nagenda also said he advised the donors that their threat to cut aid because of the bill was “very stupid” because Ugandans would think they were out to fight the country, “so people would dig in their heels more by supporting the bill”.

He also had critical words concerning former Ethics and Integrity Minister James Nsaba Buturo.

In December of 2009 as international controversy exploded over the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, Nagenda published an op-ed in the government-aligned New Vision opposing the bill. The appearance of the op-ed in the pro-government newspaper was seen as a positive development at the time.

See also:
Feb 17, 2011: Wikileaks Posts Cables from US Embassy in Uganda Concerning Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Feb 17, 2011: More Wikileaks Cables on Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Sep 10, 2011: Wikileaks: Ugandan First Lady “Ultimately Behind” Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Sep 11: 2011: More On Ugandan First Lady’s Support For Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Sep 11, 2011: Wikileaks: Vatican Lobbied Against Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Sep 12, 2011: Wikileaks on Uganda’s Homosexuality Bill: Museveni “Surprised” and Buturo “Obsessed”
Sep 12, 2011: Ugandan Presidential Aide Confirms Wikileaks Conversation
Sep 23, 2011: Ugandan First Lady Affirms Support For “Kill The Gays” Bill

Wikileaks on Uganda’s Homosexuality Bill: Museveni “Surprised” and Buturo “Obsessed”

Jim Burroway

September 12th, 2011

The latest batch of leaked U.S. diplomatic cables reveals a fascinating look at U.S. diplomatic efforts to convince Uganda’s political leadership that killing gay people is lousy public policy. A batch posted on Wikileaks last February revealed that diplomats thought M.P. David Bahati, author of the draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill, operated with a “blinding and incurable” homophobia, and they discussed security concerns with LGBT advocates who were trying to head off the bill’s passage.  They also described diplomats’ discussions with President Yoweri Museveni over U.S concerns about the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, in which Museveni promised to head off the bill, but he also warned that international pressure could be counter-productive.

President Yoweri Museveni

The newest batch of Wikileaks cables reveals few new details about U.S. diplomats’ discussions with Museveni and his push-back against international pressure. Those cables are mostly dated December 2009 or later, and mostly reflect moves which were also publicly reported in the press. But one cable dated November 9, 2009, describes an October 24 meeting between Museveni and several U.S. diplomats. This would have been nine days after the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was introduced in Parliament. The bill had been introduced as a private member’s bill by M.P. David Bahati, rather than by the more normal route of being a government-sponsored bill from a member of the President’s cabinet or the President himself. This cable does show that Museveni may have been caught off guard by the bill:

(Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs Johnnie) Carson also raised the issue of “anti-homosexuality” legislation recently tabled in Parliament. The draft bill, which is not sponsored by the Ugandan government, criminalizes homosexuality with proposed sentences ranging from imprisonment to, in some cases, death (ref. D). Recognizing that homosexuality is a difficult topic for Ugandans, Assistant Secretary Carson said the issue attracts a great deal of international attention and that passing this legislation will result in condemnation for Uganda.

Apparently unaware of the proposed legislation, Museveni said Uganda is “not interested in a war with homosexuals” and asked who was responsible for drafting the “anti-homosexuality” bill. When informed of the author by acting Finance Minister Nankabirwa, Museveni exclaimed: “But that’s a member of our party! We shall discourage him. It will divert us.” Museveni explained that Ugandans used to ignore homosexuality, blamed the legislation on western “advocacy” groups who call homosexuality a human right, and asked how Uganda should respond to the homosexual recruitment of young people. Assistant Secretary Carson noted that sexual exploitation of minors – whether hetero or homosexual in nature – was morally reprehensible and should be criminalized. Museveni agreed that criminalizing homosexuality between consenting adults “is going too far” and said Uganda should instead focus on protecting children from sexual exploitation.

Whether Museveni was actually caught off guard or his expression of surprise was for diplomatic consumption, no one can say. (Some observers suspect the bill may have been introduced as a private member’s bill in order to provide a safe distance for the government.) But what the public record does show is that Museveni subsequently warned a party conference to “go slow” on the bill because of its international implications. He also convened a special Cabinet subcommittee to try to come up with a solution to the controversy surrounding the bill. The subcommittee met on January 20, 2010, after which Ugandan media offered conflicting reports about the subcommitte’s recommendations. A cable dated February 4 describing a meeting with Foreign Affairs Minister Henry Okello Oryem provides a small inside look at what actually happened during that meeting:

Oyrem also advised patience on the anti-homosexuality bill, stating that Uganda is trying to craft a “win-win” situation for all stakeholders without provoking a backlash in Parliament and with the public. He urged the U.S. and other international donors to “take time out to consider and appreciate” the perspective of Uganda and Africa in general, and said additional “noise” on this issue from the international community plays into the hands of those supporting the bill.

Asking his note takers to leave subsequent statements out of the Ministry’s official record, Oryem assured (U.S. Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero) that Cabinet is moving to quietly shelve the bill without agitating core members of the NRM caucus. He described the January 20 Cabinet meeting on the bill as a “free for all” that revealed the previously unknown positions of several Cabinet members. “Now we know who is who,” said Oryem, “and how to deal with it. It will be worked out.”

Another cable dated December 8, 2009 describes reactions among international donors to the proposed legislation, including comments by UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy on AIDS in Africa, Elizabeth Mataka, and Sweden’s threat to withhold aid if the bill passes, both developments that BTB reported at the time. In the cable, Mataka is described as being alarmed not only by the draconian measures spelled out in the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, but she was concerned about the bill’s controversy diverting much-needed attention away from the massive corruption that was draining AIDS/HIV funding from their intended recipients.  Interestingly, the cable says that after Mataka spoke with M.P. David Bahati, she concluded that Bahati was not the main force behind the Anti-Homosexuality Bill:

Mataka said the bill’s sponsor, MP David Bahati, appeared amenable to softening some of the most offensive aspects of the legislation. However, she questioned whether Bahati is the main force behind the bill. Ethics Minister Nsaba Buturo, who is actively promoting the bill, canceled his meeting with Mataka, leaving Presidency Minister Beatrice Wabudeya as the senior-most Ugandan official on the Special Envoy’s agenda. At the end of her meeting with the U.S. Mission, Mataka expressed doubts that she delivered her message on anti-homosexuality and HIV/AIDS to the right Ugandan leaders.

Ethics and Integrity Minister James Nsaba Buturo

Ethics and Integrity Minister James Nsaba Buturo

As we reported yesterday, another Wikileaks cable quotes a presidential adviser pointing the finger to First Lady Janet Museveni as being “ultimately behind” the bill. It’s unclear from the context whether being “ultimately behind” is intended to mean that the bill was her initiative, or whether she was placing her support behind the bill. The December 8 cable is silent on the First Lady’s role, turning instead to Ethics and Integrity Minister James Nsaba Buturo, who had earlier issued an angry statement condemning international criticism of the bill. The diplomatic cable reported that Mataka’s parallel concern about corruption also hit a nerve:

Responding to allegations that the Ugandan government is “offering lip-service as far as corruption is concerned,” Buturo said such comments come from “individuals who either know the truth but choose not to say it or are unaware of what is going on.” Buturo accused foreign diplomats of failing to understand the “complexities of corruption,” and said it is unrealistic to expect the Ugandan government to single-handedly address “matters to do with morality.” Buturo said Ugandans should remind donors “that there is integrity to be defended and that threats are not the way to go. If one chooses to withdraw their aid, they are free because Ugandans do not want to engage in anal sex. We do not care.”

The diplomatic cable then went on to offer this assessment of Buturo as a “misguided minister”:

Buturo’s homosexuality obsession is rapidly undermining any credibility his office might have to oversee Uganda’s anti-corruption institutions. Local contacts continue to warn that international condemnation of the anti-homosexuality legislation – and threats to withdraw donor aid if the bill is passed – will further embolden the legislation’s supporters by fueling accusations of western cultural imperialism. We do not believe President Museveni shares Minister Buturo’s dismissal of donor aid, given that foreign assistance accounts for more than 30% of Uganda’s budget and nearly the entirety of Uganda’s HIV/AIDS response. The bill’s proponents clearly overlooked the impact of the legislation on Uganda’s efforts to combat HIV/AIDS. In private discussions with Ugandan officials, we continue to stress the bill’s offensive human rights aspects and the negative impact this legislation will have on HIV/AIDS prevention.

Buturo no longer holds the title of Ethics Minister, and he is no longer a member of Uganda’s Ninth Parliament. He appears to have been effectively sidelined politically after losing his seat in a chaotic primary election for the ruling National Resistance Movement. He was subsequently forced to resign his Cabinet post.

See also:
Feb 17, 2011: Wikileaks Posts Cables from US Embassy in Uganda Concerning Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Feb 17, 2011: More Wikileaks Cables on Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Sep 10, 2011: Wikileaks: Ugandan First Lady “Ultimately Behind” Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Sep 11: 2011: More On Ugandan First Lady’s Support For Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Sep 11, 2011: Wikileaks: Vatican Lobbied Against Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Sep 12, 2011: Wikileaks on Uganda’s Homosexuality Bill: Museveni “Surprised” and Buturo “Obsessed”
Sep 12, 2011: Ugandan Presidential Aide Confirms Wikileaks Conversation
Sep 23, 2011: Ugandan First Lady Affirms Support For “Kill The Gays” Bill

More On Ugandan First Lady’s Support For Anti-Homosexuality Bill

Jim Burroway

September 11th, 2011

Following our initial report yesterday on the leaked U.S. State Department cables fingering Uganda First Lady Janet Museveni as being “ultimately behind” the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, a reader left a comment giving a link to the Wikileaks cable in question, and Paul Canning has more about the cable here.  The relevant section begins with a brief description of Paul Nagenda, whose December 12, 2009 column in the pro-government New Vision was seen as an encouraging sign that there were powerful vioces in the government against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.  The cable describes Neganda as “one adviser against many“:

The New Vision published a column by senior presidential advisor John Nagenda against the draft anti-homosexuality legislation on December 12. Nagenda is known for challenging prevailing political winds, and has previously advised President Museveni against running for re-election in 2011. His column compared the bill to McCarthyism and the Inquisition, and urged Parliament to vote against it. In a separate discussion with PolOff (political officer), Nagenda said the New Vision – which is edited by a Dutch national – initially refused to run his column, and agreed only after Nagenda threatened to never again write for the newspaper. Nagenda said he felt morally obligated to speak out against the legislation, and accused those behind it of obfuscating differences between homosexuality, rape, incest, and pedophilia.

Nagenda said President Museveni is “quite intemperate” when it comes to homosexuality, but that the President will likely recognize the dangers of passing the anti-homosexuality legislation. He said First Lady Janet Museveni, who he described as a “very extreme woman”, is ultimately behind the bill. He added that the bill’s most vociferous public supporter, Ethics and Integrity Minister Nsaba Buturo, is a “very bad guy” responsible for a campaign of mass arrests – known by the Swahili term ‘panda gari’ – during the early 1980s under the Obote II regime while serving as Kampala’s District Commissioner. Nagenda said Buturo is using the anti-homosexuality legislation to redefine himself and “will do anything in his power to be a populist.” He advised the U.S. and other donors to refrain from publicly condemning the bill as this fuels the anti-homosexual and anti-western rhetoric of the bill’s proponents.

The fear about outside pressure having a negative effect on efforts to block the bill were echoed by a human rights lawyer, described as the “only human rights lawyer working to defend Ugandan homosexuals against charges under pre-existing anti-homosexuality laws.” The lawyer urged the international community to publicly oppose the bill, but said that threats to cut assistance as Sweden had already done “is counter productive and emboldens those pushing the legislation.”

The cable also reveals that members of the local gay community expressed fears over their security in the hostile environment stoked by the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Members of the community were also very nervous over a very high-profile interview of LGBT advocate Valery Kalende that appeared on the front page of the main opposition newspaper, Daily MonitorAccording to the cable:

Local gay and lesbian activists pleaded with one member, Val Kalende, to reconsider a feature interview with the opposition newspaper the Daily Monitor. The Monitor ran the interview as the front page story, along with several photographs of Kalende, on December 12. Published under an anonymous byline, the article provides a striking and remarkably well-written portrait of Kalende’s struggle against rising discrimination and hatred. After describing her initial reaction to (M.P. David) Bahati’s anti-homosexuality bill, Kalende said: “for the first time, I am very scared.” Bahati’s bill, said Kalende, “is not about homosexuality. It effects everyone; my pastor, my friends. It is not about us gays. Homosexuality is not about sodomizing young boys. What about relationships among people who are not hurting anyone?” The Monitor interview included a sidebar that dispassionately provided the facts about human homosexuality – its history and universality – and thus implicitly debunked many of the most absurd claims made by the bill’s proponents.

The first lady’s strident support for the Anti-Homosexuality Bill goes directly against President Yoweri Museveni’s attempts to sideline the bill, pointing to a political division within the Museveni family. Another cable dated September 23, 2009, reveals, amid corruption allegations against the First Lady, that Janet Museveni has no ambitions to be President, preferring to remain “the power behind the throne,” and that the president is grooming his son to eventually take power:

(Ruling party insider Mike) Mukula said Museveni was increasingly patterning himself after Robert Mugabe and wants to position his son, Lieutenant Colonel Muhoozi Kainerugaba Museveni, as his eventual successor. Muhoozi returned from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College in mid-2008 to assume command of the new Special Forces, a still-murky component – or potentially entirely separate unit – of the praetorian Presidential Guard Brigade comprised of all the PGB’s elite, technical, and specialized non-infantry capabilities.

However, Paul Canning points to an op-ed appearing in this morning’s Sunday Monitor questioning whether the first lady has truly given up presidential ambitions herself.

See also:
Feb 17, 2011: Wikileaks Posts Cables from US Embassy in Uganda Concerning Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Feb 17, 2011: More Wikileaks Cables on Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Sep 10, 2011: Wikileaks: Ugandan First Lady “Ultimately Behind” Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Sep 11: 2011: More On Ugandan First Lady’s Support For Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Sep 11, 2011: Wikileaks: Vatican Lobbied Against Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Sep 12, 2011: Wikileaks on Uganda’s Homosexuality Bill: Museveni “Surprised” and Buturo “Obsessed”
Sep 12, 2011: Ugandan Presidential Aide Confirms Wikileaks Conversation
Sep 23, 2011: Ugandan First Lady Affirms Support For “Kill The Gays” Bill

Wikileaks: Ugandan First Lady “Ultimately Behind” Anti-Homosexuality Bill

Jim Burroway

September 10th, 2011

Ugandan First Lady Janet Museveni

Tomorrow’s edition of Sunday Monitor,  Uganda’s largest independent newspaper, cites leaked diplomatic cables to report that Ugandan First Lady, Janet Museveni, was behind the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. According to Sunday Monitor’s reading of Wikileaks cables, Senior Presidential adviser John Nagenda revealed this to U.S. Ambassador to Uganda, Jerry Lanier:

In Mr Lanier’s comments which were leaked on September 1, by whistleblower Wikileaks, Mr Nagenda is quoted to have told the US embassy that President Museveni is “quite intemperate” when it comes to homosexuality, but the First Lady, who he described as ‘a very extreme woman,’ “is ultimately behind the bill.”

Mr Nagenda said [Ethics and Integrity Minister James Nsaba] Buturo is using the anti-homosexuality legislation to redefine himself and “will do anything in his power to be a populist.” He advised the US and other donors to refrain from publicly condemning the Bill as this fuels the anti-homosexual and anti-western rhetoric of the Bill’s proponents.

Mr Nagenda further told the US government that the bill’s most vociferous public supporter, the ex-Ethics and Integrity Minister Nsaba Buturo, was responsible for a campaign of mass arrests – known by the Swahili term ‘panda gari’ – during the Obote II regime.

Mr. Nagenda verified the conversation with a Sunday Monitor reporter. In December of 2009 as the controversy over the Anti-Homosexuality Bill exploded on the international stage, Nagenda published an op-ed in the government-aligned New Vision opposing the bill. The appearance of the op-ed in the pro-government newspaper was seen as a positive development at the time.

The revelation that Janet Museveni is one of the driving forces behind the Anti-Homosexuality Bill once again casts a light onto the influence that American-based Dominionist movements such as the New Apostolic Reformation and its Seven Mountains Mandate exerts in Uganda. Janet Museveni has reportedly spoken at several conferences around the world hosted by Ed Silvoso, and CEO of the International Transformation Network (ITN) and an apostle in C. Peter Wagner’s International Coalition of Apostles. Silvoso has also been a guest of the Museveni’s at State House. Video of Museveni speaking at one such gathering can be seen here.

In 2010, Janet Museveni spoke at a youth conference at Kampala’s prestigious Makarere University and said, “In God’s word, homosexuality attracts a curse, but now people are engaging in it and saying they are created that way. It is for money… The devil is stoking fires to destroy our nation and those taking advantage are doing so because our people are poor.” More recently, she was the guest speaker at the inaugural dinner for members of the Ninth Parliament sponsored by the Ugandan Fellowship, a branch of the U.S.-based secretive group known as the C Street Fellowship or The Family. M.P. David Bahati, the author of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, had recent been elevated to chairman of the Ugandan Fellowship as well as caucus Vice Chair for the ruling party.

Janet Museveni is currently a member of Parliament representing Ruhaama County, located in the far southwest of the country near the border with Rwanda. She also holds a cabinet position as Minister for Karamoja Affairs. The restive Karamoja District is located at the opposite corner of Uganda, alongside its border with Kenya.

If this report is correct, it appears to indicate something of a schism within the Museveni family. Other cables posted on Wikileaks last February revealed that President Yoweri Museveni had assured U.S. diplomats that he would not allow the Anti-Homosexuality Bill to become law, and reminded them “that ‘someone in Uganda’, meaning himself, is handling the matter.” He also echoed Nagenda’s advice that too much outside pressure could backfire on his efforts to derail the bill. “Museveni warned outsiders of pushing Africa too hard on this issue, lest it create another hurricane,” the cable read. “Don’t push it, warned Museveni, ‘I’ll handle it’.”

See also:
Feb 17, 2011: Wikileaks Posts Cables from US Embassy in Uganda Concerning Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Feb 17, 2011: More Wikileaks Cables on Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Sep 10, 2011: Wikileaks: Ugandan First Lady “Ultimately Behind” Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Sep 11: 2011: More On Ugandan First Lady’s Support For Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Sep 11, 2011: Wikileaks: Vatican Lobbied Against Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Sep 12, 2011: Wikileaks on Uganda’s Homosexuality Bill: Museveni “Surprised” and Buturo “Obsessed”
Sep 12, 2011: Ugandan Presidential Aide Confirms Wikileaks Conversation
Sep 23, 2011: Ugandan First Lady Affirms Support For “Kill The Gays” Bill

TV Report: Uganda to Shelve “Kill-The-Gays” Bill

Jim Burroway

March 25th, 2011

We now have YouTube video of the television news item we told you about yesterday reporting that the draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill will not be taken up by Parliament.

YouTube Preview Image

The chairman of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee had scheduled the Anti-Homosexuality Bill for debate in his committee, possibly as early as this week. But now, based on what Information Minister Kabakumba Masiko tells Uganda’s NTV, it appears that government has intervened to put a halt to the bill once and for all:

We had the Cabinet Subcommittee which gave us a report yesterday and we did realize that there are many things that are in the bill that are covered by other laws that are already in place. … And the law that is in offing, the Sexual Offenses Bill, will cover most of the other issues that were going to be covered.

Uganda President Yoweri Museveni directed a subcabinet committee to study the bill in January, 2010 amid growing international outcry over the proposed bill. In April, it was reported that the committee recommended that most of the bill be dropped with “useful provisions of the proposed law” incorporated into the Sexual Offenses Act. Which provisions the cabinet considered combining is not known. We currently do not have a copy of the Sexual Offenses Bill. The Bill’s sponsor, David Bahati, responded with a litany of issues which he felt were not covered:

We don’t have any prohibition on promotion of homosexuality anywhere, we don’t have any prohibition on same-sex marriage, we don’t have any prohibition in our laws on recruitment of homosexuality of our children, we don’t have any provision on counseling and caring. We want to make it very clear, we want Parliament to come up with a law that is specific and clear to address the emergent problem of homosexuality.

The Anti-Homosexuality Bill, if passed, would have imposed the death penalty on gays and lesbians under certain circumstances, including for “repeat offenders” — which would apply to anyone who had more than one relationship. Ugandan law already provides either 20 years or lifetime imprisonment, depending on how prosecutors chose to charge the accused. The new law would also have lowered the bar for conviction, making mere “touching” for the perceived purpose of homosexual relations a criminal offense. The law threatened teachers, doctors, friends, and family members with three years imprisonment if they didn’t report anyone they suspected of being gay to police within twenty-four hours. The law very broadly criminalized all advocacy of homosexuality including, conceivably, lawyers who defended accused gay people in court. It even threatened landlords under a “brothel” provision if they knowingly rented to gay people.

Bahati continued:

I am very confident that the Executive knows that 95% of Ugandans will not support homosexuality.

Minister Kabakumba responded:

Of course we are concerned and we don’t condone homosexuality in our country. That should be very, very, very clear. It’s in the constitution, we do not condone it, and of course our children are suffering.

Bahati called for committee to hold hearings on the bill:

Their views must be taken to committee of Parliament to be considered. They could be accepted, they cold be not accepted.

Last week, Tashobya said that the bill would be taken up for consideration by his committee, possibly as early as this week when Parliament returned for its lame duck session. Parliament returned on March 22. Parliament will expire on May 20. Our source in Kampala reports that Bahati has now gone on radio this morning saying that committee chairman Stephen Tashobya has assured him that the bill would be debated in committee.

But with the announcement coming from a cabinet member and not the committee chairman, it suggests that someone, possibly President Museveni himself via Masiko, has intervened and persuaded the Parliamentary Affairs committee to drop the bill altogether without a hearing. It should be noted that the bill’s main supporter in the cabinet, former Ethics and Integrity Minister James Nsaba Buturo, resigned last week in compliance with a court order following his loss in the ruling party’s primary elections last fall.With Buturo now out of the way, it appears that Masiko is the new point person for the government’s position on the bill. In Buturo’s parting remarks, he called on Parliament to pass the bill. (Shortly after Buturo’s departure, the offices of the Ethics and Integrity Ministry were padlocked by their landlord over failure to pay rent.)

January a year ago, Museveni spoke at an NRM meeting urging Parliament to “go slow” over the bill, pointing out that due to international outcry it is not just a domestic matter but one with worldwide ramifications, most notably in the threat it posed to foreign aid to the country. Foreign aid makes up an estimated one-third of Uganda’s budget and economy. He also called on a special subcabinet committee to examine the bill. In a cable from the U.S. Embassy in Kampala posted on Wikileaks, President Museveni “suggested the entire bill could be dropped, and twice asked the Ambassador to remind Washington that “someone in Uganda”, meaning himself, is handling the matter and knows what he is doing.” Museveni also complained about foreign pressure. “The President twice referred to a recent local political cartoon depicting him on this issue as a puppet of Secretary Clinton, Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and Stephen Harper, and asked international donors to stand down to give him room to deal with the anti-homosexuality legislation in his own way.”

That subcabinet committee completed it work the following April, but since then the bill has languished in Parliament’s Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee. There it quietly stayed through the February Parliamentary and Presidential elections, and its quiet repose there appeared to keep it safely out of electoral politics. Now that the elections are over, Buturo is out of the way, and with Parliament reconvening for a short lame-duck session, it appears that Museveni’s government saw this as the best opportunity to kill the bill.

More Wikileaks Cables on Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill

Jim Burroway

February 17th, 2011

I’ve had to correct my earlier report on the Wikileaks dump of cables from the U.S. Embassy in Uganda concerning the draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill. The original dump was not by The Guardian (UK) as I originally wrote, but by Spain’s El Pais nearly two weeks ago. The trove from El País provides more information than the two cables posted by the Guardian. It may be illuminating to consult our own extensive timeline and compare what we were reporting at the time with the contents of these cables.

For example, there’s this cable from December 21, which focused on the security and safety of local human rights advocates. Among their worries was an upcoming article which appeared in that country’s largest independent newspaper, Daily Monitor. That article featured a brave Val Kalinde, who went public with her difficulties in living in such a repressive atmosphere.

Local gay and lesbian activists pleaded with one member, Val Kalende, to reconsider a feature interview with the opposition newspaper the Daily Monitor. The Monitor ran the interview as the front page story, along with several photographs of Kalende, on December 12. Published under an anonymous byline, the article provides a striking and remarkably well-written portrait of Kalende’s struggle against rising discrimination and hatred. After describing her initial reaction to Bahati’s anti-homosexuality bill, Kalende said: “for the first time, I am very scared.” Bahati’s bill, said Kalende, “is not about homosexuality. It effects everyone; my pastor, my friends. It is not about us gays. Homosexuality is not about sodomizing young boys. What about relationships among people who are not hurting anyone?” The Monitor interview included a sidebar that dispassionately provided the facts about human homosexuality – its history and universality – and thus implicitly debunked many of the most absurd claims made by the bill’s proponents.

Another cable, dated January 28, 2010, describes a meeting between the newly-credentialed U.S. Ambassador Jerry P. Lanier and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. According to the cable, Ambassador Lanier received “an earful” from the Ugandan leader:

Museveni made it clear that Uganda will not further criminalize homosexual sex between consenting adults and that the provision on reporting homosexuals to authorities would also not go through. He suggested the entire bill could be dropped, and twice asked the Ambassador to remind Washington that “someone in Uganda”, meaning himself, is handling the matter and knows what he is doing. He also emphasized that Uganda’s main concern is alleged advocacy and recruitment of homosexuals, and that homosexuality between consenting adults has previously been quietly tolerated in Uganda.

The President twice referred to a recent local political cartoon depicting him on this issue as a puppet of Secretary Clinton, Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and Stephen Harper, and asked international donors to stand down to give him room to deal with the anti-homosexuality legislation in his own way. On the way out of the meeting, and in the presence of the Ambassador and Foreign Minster Kutesa only, Museveni directed Kutesa to arrange a private meeting with the Ambassador in February to further discuss the anti-homosexuality bill.

In another cable from February 11, 2010, Museveni met with a delegation of American diplomats at an African Union summit, and asked the Americans to back off a bit in their criticism:

Carson expressed gratitude that Museveni had tamped down the tensions surrounding Uganda’s draft  anti-homosexuality bill. Both Carson and Otero encouraged Museveni to pursue decriminalization and destigmatization of  homosexuality. Museveni warned outsiders of pushing Africa too hard on this issue, lest it create another hurricane, and lectured on African family values. He assured the USG delegation that nobody in Uganda would be executed for homosexual behavior, but explained that in the African context homosexuality is a disorder and not something to be promoted or celebrated. Don’t push it, warned Museveni, “I’ll handle it.”

In fact, Museveni had already worked to put the brakes on the bill’s passage, directing that it be studied by a subcabinet committee. The committee’s recommendations weren’t promising. Meanwhile, the bill itself was sent to two Parliamentary committees for further study. The bill is still in committee today, although there is talk that it may be brought to a vote sometime following tomorrow’s national elections during a lame-duck session of Parliament.

See also:
Feb 17, 2011: Wikileaks Posts Cables from US Embassy in Uganda Concerning Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Feb 17, 2011: More Wikileaks Cables on Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Sep 10, 2011: Wikileaks: Ugandan First Lady “Ultimately Behind” Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Sep 11: 2011: More On Ugandan First Lady’s Support For Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Sep 11, 2011: Wikileaks: Vatican Lobbied Against Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Sep 12, 2011: Wikileaks on Uganda’s Homosexuality Bill: Museveni “Surprised” and Buturo “Obsessed”
Sep 12, 2011: Ugandan Presidential Aide Confirms Wikileaks Conversation
Sep 23, 2011: Ugandan First Lady Affirms Support For “Kill The Gays” Bill

Uganda’s President Calls for “Tolerance” At African Bishop’s Conference

Jim Burroway

August 30th, 2010

The All Africa Bishops Conference wrapped up its meeting in Entebbe yesterday, calling on the Worldwide African Communion, according to Uganda’s Daily Monitor, to “stick to their culture and reject Western ways tearing the church apart.” Among the “Western ways” specifically denounced is the Western church’s positions on the equal dignity and worth for LGBT people and the ordination of women. According to Daily Monitor:

While addressing a press conference yesterday, the clergy men, led by Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi, said Western cultures like homosexuality should be shunned. He said they will not change their stand on homosexuality, saying the practice is against the scriptures.

On Tuesday, President Yoweri Museveni, without a hint of an awareness of the irony of his remarks, called on the 400 Anglican bishops gathered at Entebbe to embrace tolerance as a biblical imperative, saying that Christians should not “have one minute of time wasted” by those promoting prejudice:

“I am always looking for the good Samaritan,” he said. “Jesus says you shall know them by their fruits. You shall know them by their actions. Not by their words, not by their addresses, not by their titles, but by their works, by their deeds, by the products of their works.”

The President said those of all denominations or faiths needed to recognise one another’s right to exist: “If you are a Muslim, so what? I am a Christian. OK, so what’s your problem? You are what you are, but I am what I am. We’re different…I’m here by the permission of God. You must accept me the way I am whether you want it or not.”

That tolerance obviously does not extend to gay people. Museveni has spoken out repeatedly against what he sees as the “foreign influence” behind the presence of LGBT people in Uganda. A member of his ruling party, MP David Bahati, last October introduced the draconian Anti-Homosexuality before the nation’s Parliament. Following an international outcry that threatened foreign aid to the impoverished country, Museveni urged Parliament (of which some two-thirds are members of his National Resistance Movement) to “go slow” on the bill. He has nevertheless since then repeated several of the common Ugandan talking points about LGBT people. In speeches for Martyr’s Day, a national holiday in Uganda, Museveni charged that Europeans were intent on “imposing homosexuality“:

“The church in Africa is very strong and has been at the fore in fighting homosexuality and moral decadence. We must look for modern ways of instilling discipline in society. The Europeans are finished and if we follow their western culture, we shall be headed for Sodom and Gomorrah (the two places which God destroyed because of sexuality),” he said.

The latest Anglican conference wrapped up yesterday. Sunday Monitor’s report on the conference wrap-up seems to indicate that  discussions concerning homosexuality were dominant in the talks. Among the comments:

“Homosexuality is not a new phenomenon in the society but the only trouble is that the issues dividing us (church) now are very difficult to handle. They are threatening the unity of the church because they disobey the authority of the scriptures,” says [Archbishop Nicholas Okoh of the province of Nigeria]. He says homosexuality is a result of some people engaged in making their culture to be superior to the biblical teachings. “It is two sided; while some people want to be obedient to their culture to determine the content of the church, others say no and it must be the guidance of the bible,” he added.

The primates describe homosexuality as an imposed interpretation and alien culture that has hindered the growth of an authentic church which could respond to its people. “We are saying homosexuality is not compatible with the word of God. We are saying that this culture of other people is against the traditional belief of marriage held by the Anglican Communion,” says the Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, Henry Luke Orombi. Bishop Orombi says that the Anglican Church will never accept homosexuality because the scriptures too do not allow people of same sex to join in marriage.

“Homosexuality is evil, abnormal and unnatural as per the Bible. It is a culturally unacceptable practice. Although there is a lot of pressure, we cannot turn our hands to support it,” says Bishop Orombi.

The Archbishop Ian Ernest of the Province of Indian Ocean candidly denounced the Worldwide Communion’s refusal to “reign in” western churches which instituted policies which recognize the dignity and worth of LGBT people:

We cannot afford to continue to lurch from one crisis to the next in our beloved Communion. Despite attempts to warn some western provinces, action has been taken to irrevocably shatter the Communion. Sadly existing structures of the Anglican Communion have been unable to address the need for discipline,” says Bishop Ernest, the chairman of CAPA. He says the teachings of homosexuality are irrelevant to the needs of Africans and are unrepresentative demographically hence the need for new structures that are credible and representative of the majority.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, attended the opening sessions of the conference amid open declarations of de-facto schism between the African arm of the church and the West. Williams appeared to give his nod to African “leadership” in his remarks, saying, “God raises up different countries and cultures in different seasons to bear witness to his purpose in especially marked ways. This indeed may be His will for Africa in the years ahead.”

Ninety US Congress Reps Denounce Uganda’s Anti-Gay Bill

Jim Burroway

January 21st, 2010

Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) issued a press release announcing that more than ninety colleagues in the House of Representatives, including Barny Frank (D-MA) and Jared Polis (D-CO), have sent separate letters to President Barack Obama (PDF: 2 MB/6 pages) and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni (PDF: 5 pages/1.7 MB ) calling the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill “the most extreme and hateful attempt by an African country to criminalize their LGBT community.” According to the press release:

In the letters, the Members of Congress call the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2009 “the most extreme and hateful attempt by an African country to criminalize their LGBT community.” The Members asked President Obama to use his “personal leadership, and that of our country, in seeking to deter these legislative proposals,” and warned President Museveni that, “Should the bill be passed, any range of bilateral programs important to relations between our countries and, indeed, to the Ugandan people inevitably would be called under review.”

Rep. Baldwin called the proposed legislation “an appalling violation of human rights,” and calls on President Obama to “use the full force of his office to oppose this hateful and life-threatening legislation.” Rep. Polis said, “This is nothing more than the institutionalization of hatred and bigotry and it must be stopped,” while calling on Obama and Museveni “to do everything in their powers to prevent it from becoming law.”

Rep. Frank said, “Having accepted debt relief from the international community only a few years ago, Uganda has an obligation to show some respect for basic human rights. He also warned that “Vicious unleashing of persecution of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people should and will be an obstacle to any future Congressional initiative to provide aid to that country.”

Click here to see BTB’s complete coverage of the past year’s anti-gay developments in Uganda.

Click here to read the letters sent to President Barack Obama and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

Beware of a “Compromise” In Uganda

Jim Burroway

January 15th, 2010

Uganda’s independent Monitor reports that the Speaker of Uganda’s Parliament Edward Ssekandi insists that, despite President Yoweri Museveni’s call for a “discussion” of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill due to international outrage and the prospect of forfeiting badly needed donor aid, the bill will go forward in Parliament:

Uganda's Speaker of Parliament, Edward Ssekandi

Uganda's Speaker of Parliament, Edward Ssekandi

Mr Ssekandi said: “There is no way we can be intimidated by remarks from the President to stop the Bill. This Bill was officially tabled in Parliament and was subsequently committed to a committee for scrutiny. The President has a right to express his views like any other people who have petitioned me.”

He added: “This was a private members’ Bill and if the Executive wants to bring their views they are free. The Constitution is clear, it doesn’t allow people of the same sex to get married and what we are looking for in the Bill is (basically) the penalty and the process should continue.”

When Museveni announced to the Executive Council of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) that his Cabinet would sit down with fellow party member MP David Bahati to discuss the wide-ranging and draconian bill, many observers saw it as a signal that the bill would be withdrawn. But since then, we’ve noticed that while Uganda’s state-owned media gave Museveni’s remarks prominent play (the state-owned New Vision, the country’s largest daily newspaper, has mostly ignored the Anti-Homosexuality Bill until now), it has also been extremely cautious about reporting what the implications of his remarks might be. Meanwhile Bahati has remained defiant, insisting that he will proceed in pushing the so-called “kill-the-gays” bill through Parliament, and now it appears that the Parliament’s Speaker has Bahati’s back.

Museveni justified his announced intervention by telling the NRM gathering that the repercussions of the bill has gone beyond the borders of Uganda and has become a ign policy issue. But Voice of American yesterday reported that Uganda’s Foreign Affairs Minister Henry Okello Oryem now denies that the government is backing away from the draconian legislation because of foreign policy implications:

Foreign Affairs Minister Henry Okello Oryem

Foreign Affairs Minister Henry Okello Oryem

The minister said the president’s remarks to party members was in response to a recent war of words in the media between senior government officials over the gay bill, with one minister stating the government’s position was that the bill was “not necessary.”

“What the president was trying to say was that when it comes to those kind of issues that are related to the current issues relating to homosexuality – will aid be cut, will it affect our relations with other countries, and so forth – nobody has the right to comment on those matters except him as the president, and then it will be integrated by the Foreign Affairs [ministry],” said Oryem.

President Yoweri Museveni

President Yoweri Museveni

So what’s happening? It’s hard to know. Uganda is effectively a one-party state (Museveni’s NRM controls more than two-thirds of Parliament) and Museveni is about to begin his twenty-fifth year in power. In many ways, he rules as a strongman, closing radio stations and declaring opposition demonstrations “illegal” whenever it suits him. Uganda’s 1995 Constitution (PDF: 459KB/a whopping 192 pages!) calls for an “independent” Electoral Commission, but all seven members of the commission are appointed by the President. The constitution originally called for term limits on the President, but that was amended in 2005 to remove those limits and allow Museveni to run for a third term in 2006.

In fact, with the NRM dominating Parliament as it does, Museveni can change the constitution pretty much at will, and there are suspicions that he may do so again to gain a further advantage in the upcoming 2011 elections. The NRM, not surprisingly, has already named him as their candidate for a fourth term. Assuming he wins and completes that term, he will have held power for thirty-one years. Uganda has not had a peacful change of government since its independence in 1962. Museveni came to power after overthrowing his predecessor in a civil war in 1985. Museveni’s predecessor, Milton Obote, came to power following an invasion from Tanzania in 1979 which overthrew Idi Amin.  Despite the U.S. Congress having mandated that the State Department closely scrutinize the upcoming elections, few people expect a peaceful change in government next year.

None of these are the hallmarks of a transparent, functioning democracy. And yet, NRM appears to be a rather fractious party these days. In addition to competing statements on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill from various NRM ministers even after Museveni spoke on the subject, delegates at the NRM gathering openly challenged Museveni on his preferences for appointing fellow members of his Ankole tribe to key positions and steering the country’s resources to western Uganda, his home area.

Unlike his predecessors, Museveni  seems to tolerate a measure of dissent, but this tolerance only goes so far and it extends to those areas which are useful to him. While he has no qualms about banning demonstrations by opposition parties and deploying a huge show of force to prevent them from taking place, Museveni has been remarkably “tolerant” of announced massive anti-gay rallies. Pentecostal pastor Martin Ssempa, who has close ties to several American evangelical groups as well as to Museveni and the First Lady (who also happens to hold a seat in Parliament), has just announced a”million-man” march for February 17 in support of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni

President Yoweri Museveni

So let’s not be fooled into thinking that Uganda is a free-wheeling and fully functioning democracy. It isn’t, and Museveni holds all of the cards where the future of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill is concerned. And we must not forget this, because Museveni may point to those appearances of an open and functioning democracy as an excuse for refusing to prevail upon Bahati to withdraw the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, even though this is something which Museveni could very easily do without breaking a sweat.

The danger then, is that we may see a “compromise” in the works, which would be just as disastrous for human rights as having the bill become law unchanged. To see what I mean, consider what the bill does now. If passed, it would:

  • Expand the definitions for homosexual acts, making conviction easier. Current law requires evidence of penetration. The new law would expand the definition of homosexual activity to”touch(ing) another person with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality.” Touching itself is defined as “touching—(a) with any part of the body; (b) with anything else; (c) through anything; and in particular includes touching amounting to penetration of any sexual organ. anus or mouth.”
  • Affirm Uganda’s lifetime imprisonment for those convicted of homosexuality.
  • Define a new crime of “aggravated homosexuality” for those who engage in sex with someone under the age of 18, who are HIV-positive, who is a “repeat offender” (so broadly defined as to include anyone who has had a relationship with more than one person, or who had sex with the same person more than once), or who had sex with a disabled person (consensual or not). The penalty for “aggravated homosexuality” is death by hanging.
  • Require anyone arrested on suspicion of homosexuality to undergo HIV testing to determine the individual’s qualification for prosecution of “aggravated homosexuality.”
  • Criminalize “attempted homosexuality” with imprisonment for seven years.
  • Criminalize “promoting” homosexuality with fines and imprisonment for between five and seven years. This overly-broad provision would criminalize all speech and peaceful assembly for those who advocate on behalf of LGBT citizens in Uganda . It would also criminalize any attempt to repeal or modify the law in the future, as those moves could also be seen as “promoting” homosexuality.
  • Criminalize “aiding and abetting homosexuality” with seven years imprisonment. This provision could be used against anyone extending counseling, medical care, or otherwise providing aide gay people.
  • Criminalize the act of obtaining a same-sex marriage abroad with lifetime imprisonment.
  • Add a clause which forces friends or family members to report LGBT persons to police within 24-hours of learning about that individual’s homosexuality or face fines or imprisonment for up to three years.
  • Penalize people who run “brothels” with five to seven years imprisonment for renting to LGBT people. However, it defines a brothel as “a house, room,set of rooms or place of any kind for the purposes of homosexuality” instead of the more normal definition of a place where commercial sex work takes place. Anyone’s bedroom would be a “brothel” under this definition, placing landlords and hotel owners in jeopardy for renting to LGBT people.
  • Add an extra-territorial and extradition provisions, allowing Uganda to prosecute LGBT Ugandans living abroad.
  • Void all international treaties, agreements and human rights obligations which conflict with this bill.

There can clearly be no “compromise.” Should even one provision of this bill survive, it would still represent a disastrous setback for human rights in Uganda. It could also, not surprisingly, become a powerful tool that Museveni could deploy against his political opponents with devastating effect.

In 1999, Museveni ordered a campaign of mass arrests under the current anti-gay law. “I have told the CID (Criminal Investigations Department) to look for homosexuals, lock them up and charge them,” he announced. Several people were jailed. Five men and women who had formed Right Companion, a fledgling LGBT group, were beaten and tortured by police and the women were sexually abused. Others fled the country in fear. The survival of any part of this proposed bill will result in anti-gay pogroms which will make 1999 look like child’s play.

Click here to see BTB’s complete coverage of the past year’s anti-gay developments in Uganda.

Ugandan State-Owned TV’s Cautious Coverage of Museveni’s Remarks

Jim Burroway

January 13th, 2010

Uganda’s state-owned UBC television this morning featured Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s comments made yesterday during an Executive Council meeting of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party meeting at State House, Entebbe about the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. In these videos, provided by an anonymous BTB reader in Uganda, we see a report on Museveni’s remarks.

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As you can see, the report on state-owned TV, which is followed by remarks by Deputy Attorney General Fred Ruhindi, is extremely cautious and does not speculate on the implications of Museveni’s remarks. Early coverage by the state-owned newspaper New Vision gave Museveni’s remarks extraordinarily large and thorough coverage, but offered no analysis of the bill’s future either. However, New Vision printed another article quoting Executive Director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, Livingston Sewanyana, as backing Museveni’s remarks, saying that the bill infringes on human rights. This is, I believe, the first time this opinion has been reported in the state-owned paper.

Independent media has been less cautious. The earlier report by NTV speculated that Museveni’s remarks might be a “nail in the coffin” for the draconian anti-gay bill. Uganda’s independent Monitor newspaper, which is owned by the same media group as NTV, this morning said:

He also left Ndorwa West MP David Bahati holding the can, when he, for the first time publicly, disowned the legislator’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009, saying it does not represent the party or government position.

As for Bahati himself, he was reportedly on WBS television last night, still determined to push the bill through Parliament.

Click here to see BTB’s complete coverage of the past year’s anti-gay developments in Uganda.

Click here to see a transcript of the UBC television reports

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